The 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) prohibits the acquisition or retention of biological weapons. In order to assure the purposes of the Convention are being realised, it has become an established practice for States Parties to meet every five years to review the operation of the BWC, taking into account any relevant new scientific and technological developments. Since 1972, changes in science and technology, combined with a transformation in perceptions of security and risk, have generated questions over the extent to which the current process of reviewing developments in science and technology is fit for purpose. To examine this issue, the Harvard Sussex Program on Chemical and Biological Weapons is leading a project designed to investigate the process of Science and Technology (S&T) Review within the BWC.
The project seeks to understand what process is currently employed by States Parties to review S&T developments of relevance to the Convention and examines proposals and other options for improving this process, taking into consideration their technical and political feasibility in the multilateral context of the BWC. Four key questions have been identified to achieve this objective:
To answer these questions, the project is divided into four research phases, over the course of which, a number of stakeholders from both the security and scientific communities will be engaged through interviews, questionnaires, workshops and conferences:
Using five national case studies, phase one will look at the process of conducting S&T reviews at the national level and at how national contributions have influenced the discussion within - and the outcomes of - the BWC Review Conference.
Phase two will construct a number of case studies focused on selected technologies, identified as being of particular relevance to the Convention. Through engagement with the authors of national S&T review papers, these case studies will seek to elicit an understanding of the authors’ perceptions of key technologies. These perceptions will subsequently be compared and contrasted with the views of other stakeholder groups.
Through the use of in-depth interviews and questionnaires, phase three will involve an assessment of proposals and other options for improving the S&T review, their technical and political feasibility and the attitudes of stakeholders towards such concepts.
Phase four will refine the findings from the project through further stakeholder engagement, and subsequently disseminate the results and conclusions.
The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and being conducted as part of the Global Uncertainties programme of the Research Council UK. The new knowledge developed from this project will be refined through a number of workshops and conferences, and disseminated through a set of articles and policy summaries tailored to specific audiences in different communities of practice.